Indian Hills’ Basketball Coach Hank Plona’s absence from two games following his arrest earlier this week strikes us as the right balance between recognizing the seriousness of Plona’s actions and the need to avoid overreaction.
Plona was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated early Monday morning. A breath test showed he was more than two times over the legal limit for driving.
The quick and easy comparison would be the situation the Ottumwa school board dealt with last year after a former member was charged. There are important differences, though. Plona’s prior arrest was more than eight years ago. There’s a world of difference between that and the much shorter gap involved with the school board member. Simply put, Plona did not have an immediate past history of similar incidents.
But if time is a mitigating factor, surely Plona’s role as a coach must be an aggravating one. Anyone with the kind of contact and influence a college coach has over young people has a responsibility to model good behavior. We’re not talking sainthood. But given the ongoing struggles with alcohol abuse faced by college campuses nationwide, it is certainly incumbent upon teachers and coaches to make good decisions about their own use.
Teaching students, including Plona’s own athletes, that drinking and driving has consequences is important. His absence from the bench for two games makes that point clear. Plona is likely on a much shorter leash now than before Monday morning. Future incidents of this sort must force the school to seriously consider terminating his services.
There were complaints following coverage of Plona’s arrest that he was being singled out because of his job. That’s both true and false. It is true that the vast majority of Ottumwa residents would not have media pick up on an arrest for driving while intoxicated.
All, however, would have had their arrest made public in our pages. The Courier collects police reports, which are public record, daily. Each of those reports goes into the paper. That has, on past occasions, included our own employees.
People must also remember Plona is not just any resident. He occupies a high-profile position and his salary is funded by taxpayers. He is by definition a public employee. His role working with students, most of whom are under the legal drinking age, also makes the situation more noteworthy. He has a higher responsibility given his position.
It is also important to teach that errors in judgement, even serious ones, can be overcome. Those who correct their behavior and make better decisions in the future deserve the opportunity to leave those errors behind them. Plona’s retention as coach accomplishes that goal.
Actions have consequences. We don’t live in a world of marble men and women who are above error. Nor should we expect people to live up to that standard.
Plona is fortunate in this case. He injured no one. The story could have been quite different, with him or someone else badly hurt. We are convinced that was not his intent, but it could have become his reality all too easily.
For Plona’s sake, for Indian Hills’ and for his players, we hope he takes advantage of the opportunity he now has.